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Your Fierce Love: The Bennett Family, #7

Your Fierce Love: The Bennett Family, #7

Автором Layla Hagen

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Your Fierce Love: The Bennett Family, #7

Автором Layla Hagen

оценки:
5/5 (10 оценки)
Длина:
283 pages
4 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Aug 1, 2017
ISBN:
9781386881926
Формат:
Книге

Описание

They say Blake Bennett is downright irresistible. They're mostly right.

I've never had to work too hard to fill my bed. One smile is usually all it takes.

I like it like that. With the men of my family dropping like flies into true love and marriage, it's nice to know one of us can still maintain the famous Bennett bachelor lifestyle. Even if they are starting to pressure me to join them.

So how has Clara Abernathy managed to resist all my charms?

Her sweetness and sass are a lethal combination, and I'm dying for just one taste.

Our family has treated her like one of our own for years. After spending her life in group homes, we've given her a place to belong. And after she needs a place to stay, I offer her a literal home next door to me. Yeah, maybe hooking up with me would be crossing a line. Just a little.

I know family friends are off-limits. She has professional conflicts on top of it. But she's filling a hole in me I didn't even know I had. Soon I have this bizarre compulsion to make her this happy too. I've always liked bending the rules, but will this be the one that finally breaks me?

Издатель:
Издано:
Aug 1, 2017
ISBN:
9781386881926
Формат:
Книге

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Your Fierce Love - Layla Hagen

Hagen

CHAPTER ONE

––––––––

Blake

To another Bennett wedding, I exclaim, clinking my glass against my baby sister’s. Summer sips champagne, her gaze scanning the packed venue. Our sister Alice got married today, and almost three hundred guests are in attendance. Weddings are big affairs in our family.

Look at them. They’re so happy. Watching Nate and Alice, Summer sighs, a dreamy expression on her face.

You’re daydreaming about your own wedding, aren’t you? I bet you already know where you want to do it.

Don’t be silly. I know the theme and type of dress too. She grins, tapping a finger to her right temple. Have all the details in my mind. I just need a groom.

Chuckling, I lace an arm around her shoulders, kissing her forehead. It’s so good to have her back. She’s been working at a museum in Rome for the past few years, and for a while, I feared she’d move there permanently. I’m sure a certain member of our family will happily lend you a hand.

Summer wiggles her eyebrows. By certain, I mean our oldest sister, Pippa. She’s quite the successful matchmaker. Proof: We’re nine siblings in total, and six are married. Single people are a disappearing species in my family. Summer, my twin brother Daniel, and I are the last remaining musketeers.

Let’s go mingle with the guests, I say. The party is still young, and I’ve yet to greet many members of our very extended family, and close friends. The dance floor is already full, but given the sheer number of guests, that still leaves plenty of candidates to rope into a conversation.

You’re right. Divide and conquer?

Yeah.

Summer heads straight to one of our cousins, but I stop by the kids’ playground corner first. The best part of having married siblings is that I’ve got a whole bunch of nieces and nephews to spoil. At the rate everyone’s shooting out babies, the group is going to reach double digits soon. As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier. Not to toot my own horn, but I have reasonable evidence that I’m everyone’s favorite uncle.

Because of their different ages, things tend to get out of hand when we group them together. I’m expecting action tonight since the group is large—many guests brought their kids too. We’ve hired sitters for the event, but I want to get a feel for the situation, see if there’s a war brewing. So far, it seems not. 

Uncle Blake, I want more sweets, says my four-year-old niece Mia.

Her identical twin, Elena, drops the doll she was holding at the word "sweets". Me too.

They press their hands together as if in prayer, looking up at me with wide, pleading eyes. Now, I know for a fact that Pippa doesn’t allow her daughters to eat sweets this late in the evening, but...  eh...  I never can tell these angels no. This weakness is probably why I’m their favorite uncle. 

Right away, girls.

I cross the enormous ballroom along the edge of the dance floor, which is getting more crowded by the minute. At the sweets cart, I run into one of my favorite people: Clara Abernathy. I met her more than two years ago, around the time Nate and Alice started dating. She’s not just a close friend of Pippa’s, but what we affectionately call an adopted Bennett in my family. Wearing a red wraparound dress, she hovers in front of the cart, inspecting the offerings.

Fancy seeing you here, Clara. I grab a plate, trying to guess what Mia and Elena would like.

You know me. If there’s sugar in a room, there’s a good bet I’ll be gravitating to it. The hazelnut cake is to die for, by the way.

Wouldn’t be my first choice.

Excellent. More for me. She grins, loading her plate with cake, then turns her attention to a plate in the center containing one lonely cupcake. Please tell me you don’t want that, or I’ll have to fight you for it.

I’m tempted to tease her, but growing up with three sisters taught me that you don’t get between a woman and her sweets unless you’re prepared to suffer the consequences. 

I don’t want it. Be my guest.

My, what a gentleman you are tonight.

I’m dressed like one, might as well act the part.

Have to say, for someone who seems allergic to suits, you sure wear one well. Should try it more often.

Let’s not get crazy. I wink at her. Suits and cuff links are not my usual style. I’m a jeans man through and through. She laughs softly, her dark brown hair bobbing down her back, a whiff of her flowery and feminine scent reaching me.

Why aren’t you putting anything on your plate?

I’m actually on a bounty hunt for Mia and Elena. Not sure what they want. Help?

Oooh, but the girls will love the cupcake. And the hazelnut cake. She glances once at her plate before handing it to me, and taking the empty one from my hands. Take this to them. 

You don’t even bat an eyelash at giving up the cupcake for my nieces, but you wanted to fight me for it? Good to know.

I can’t resist any of your nieces and nephews, and don’t judge me. Since you cater to their every whim, neither do you.

Guilty. 

Know what? I’ll eat sweets later. Let’s make plates for the rest of the kids too. Taking sweets to just part of the group is a recipe for war.

It didn’t occur to me, but she’s right. Thanks for saving my bacon.

It’s good bacon. Deserves saving.

I can’t put my finger on it, but her tone sounds off. As we head over to the kids’ corner carrying loaded plates, a subtle shift in her body language convinces me that something is definitely awry. She hunches her shoulders, sighing. Usually, Clara has an energy that lights her up from within, but that vibrancy is melting away right in front of my eyes. Time to find out what’s bothering her, and either fix it or make her forget about it—for tonight, at least.

***

Clara

The kids attack the plates the second Blake and I place them on the low tables. We move a few feet away from the group but watch for any signs they’re about to attack each other.

What’s wrong? Blake asks, and I wince.

That visible, huh?

Yeah, to anyone who knows you.

Oh snap! I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. I have all the time in the world to worry about my living situation once the wedding’s over. I have one job tonight, and that is being happy for Alice and Nate.

Before moving to London with Alice, Nate was my boss, and a great mentor and friend. He also introduced me to the Bennett family, and they’ve become a huge part of my life. They’re warm and close, and I adore them. Last year, they threw a surprise birthday party for me, and whenever I’m sick, someone from the family—usually Blake’s mother—brings me food.

Long story short, I owe it to Nate big-time, and the least I can do is smile and push my current predicament to the back of my mind.

So, what’s wrong?

Nothing that can’t wait until after the wedding, I say with determination.

Blake lifts a brow. I should’ve known he wouldn’t be satisfied with that nonanswer. He can be intense when he wants to. Now he definitely wants to. He leans in a tad too close, pinning me with his dark eyes. I won’t lie, my resolve cracks a little under the weight of his attention. My flight instinct kicks in because being in sniffing distance of Blake is dangerous. It usually sends my pulse into overdrive, messes with my senses. Tonight, his proximity seems to affect me less—

Wait, I spoke too soon. There is pounding in my ears...  Yep, that’s my pulse spiking. My heartbeat accelerates. Blake is still holding my gaze captive. I stubbornly look back but give in when I feel the heat rising to my cheeks. 

You know I was supposed to receive the keys to my apartment next Monday?

I’m still over the moon about the my bit. This will be the first home I will own. A tiny box, but it will be mine. Eventually.

Yeah.

Well, turns out the construction crew found some issues, and they’re delaying the project completion by ten to twelve weeks. 

Blake sets his lips into a grim line. Let me guess. You already put in the notice where you live now?

Shifting my weight from one leg to the other, I cross my arms over my chest.

"Exactly. I’m supposed to move out by the end of next week. Called the landlord, asking if he can extend the contract, but he’s already rented the place to someone else, so his answer was something along the lines of chop, chop, move it, move it."

I’m gonna take a wild guess that house hunting isn’t going well?

Not easy to find something on such short notice in San Francisco.

Especially for only a few months.

Blowing out a breath, I nod. Ever since the construction company notified me of the delay two weeks ago, I’ve been browsing apartment listings and emailing with a real estate agent, but so far nothing. The short lease time is a deal breaker for all the places I can afford, so my options are rather bleak.

I’ll have to suck it up and look for a room in a shared apartment. Those are more flexible. The prospect of sharing my space with strangers is daunting. I grew up in group homes, sharing a bedroom with five, sometimes seven other girls. Only half were friendly at any given time.

You’re not going to live with strangers, Clara. He sounds a little concerned, a lot protective. In the background, the music changes, and I tap my foot against the floor to the rhythm of the new tune, watching as a crease appears on Blake’s forehead and he runs a hand through his almost black hair. You never know what weirdos you’ll end up with.

Trust me, I’m not a fan of sharing, but I’m out of options.

I have an idea. He pulls himself to his full height, which I estimate to be at six foot two or three. Despite his height, he appears strong, not massive. His muscular build and tapered waist make him look athletic. Scratch that. They make him look the definition of sexy and sinful.

Do tell, because I’m completely out of good ones. 

The apartment next to mine above the bar is empty.

It takes a moment for his meaning to register. Blake owns a bar, and while I did know he owns the entire building and lives on the upper floor, I had no idea there were two apartments there, but it makes sense. The building is huge. There’s just one hitch in this plan. Considering the size and location....

I don’t think I can afford that kind of rent.

I wouldn’t charge you.

This stabs at my pride. I make it a point to take the chances that are given to me, but this feels like charity. I deliberate my answer for a moment because I don’t want to come off as ungrateful when he’s going above and beyond to help me.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that, Blake.

Look, that place is empty anyway, and I’d never rent it out.

Why not?

I don’t want neighbors, he says simply. You’re a friend, that’s different. And it would only be for twelve weeks tops.

Emotions clog my throat, but I muster a smile. Even though the Bennetts have been a constant in my life for the past two years, I’m still surprised every time they offer to help me. Still, this doesn’t feel right.

As if sensing my doubts, he adds, You can pay me what you’re paying for rent now.

That’s more reasonable, even if not fair to you.

It’s fair. His eyes crinkle as he offers me a wide smile. Now, since the kids seem peaceful, let’s return to the realm of grown-ups. He leads me away, resting one hand on the center of my back, splaying his fingers wide.

Do you want to come see the apartment?

Sure. When do you have time?

Tomorrow would be good since it’s Sunday, but I’ll probably sleep like the dead after this. Monday? Before happy hour begins at the bar?

Deal. And Blake? Thank you. You’re the one saving my bacon now. Big-time.

His fingers press gently into my back, and he leans in dangerously close. I’ll be a fun neighbor, I promise.

Is it suddenly hot in here, or is it just me? I glance sideways, inspecting Blake. Yep, just me. He isn’t even breaking a sweat, while it’s all Niagara here under my dress. I wish I’d had the good sense to style my hair up in an elegant bun instead of loose waves, though I suspect the flash of heat has nothing to do with my hair sticking to the back of my neck and everything to do with the man next to me.

As we make our way to the center of the ballroom, I notice the hook holding up Alice’s long train has come off, and the fabric is cinched behind her at her feet. Since she’s engrossed in a conversation with Nate, it’s possible she hasn’t noticed. She could trip on it if she doesn’t know. 

See you later, I mouth to Blake and head toward his sister. Sorry to interrupt you lovebirds, but the hook holding your train has come off.

Alice glances downward. Oh, crap. They warned me this would happen because the fabric is so heavy. I have safety pins in a small white bag under our table.

I’ll go get it, and then I’m going to fix your dress.

Always the savior, eh, Clara? Nate asks good-naturedly.

That’s how I roll. Ah, I miss having him as a boss, or at least close by. I have no siblings, but while I worked for him, it felt a bit like I had an older brother.

Five minutes later, Alice and I are in the bathroom, and I’m trying to replace the hook with the safety pin. Alice, bless her, is talking my ear off about everything. 

I just can’t rein in my grin, she confides. Every time someone says smile for a photo", my face just explodes with happiness. Her happiness is infectious, and I can’t help wondering how it must feel to love someone and to be loved back so fiercely. I think my face is going to hurt from so much grinning tomorrow."

There, all done, I exclaim, finally. I think it’ll hold, but I’ll keep an eye on it anyway.

You’re my hero. Now let’s get out there and have a blast.

We do have a blast. I dance my feet off, but my mind keeps circling back to one thought—especially whenever I’m dancing with a certain Bennett brother. If Blake’s proximity affects me this much, how on earth will I pull off living next to him?

CHAPTER TWO

Clara

I am going to frame this and look at it every day. I’m hugging a magazine to my chest while doing a bad impression of a cha-cha. This is one of the best things about having my own small office at the studio. Inside here, I can be as ridiculous as I want. No one can see my antics, which often leads people to not take me seriously. As if having a sense of humor and a tendency to overexpress my joy means I can’t be serious when the situation requires it.

But whatever, I’m not going to change anyone’s minds, so I’ve learned to only let my crazy out around people I trust. Once I’ve danced the energy away, I lay the magazine on the desk, smoothing it out. I’ve crumpled it a bit in my display of affection. It’s a stellar review on one of the last segments I’ve worked on with Nate as his assistant producer. It only came out last week. I like my job, but I’m not crazy about it, and sometimes a good review is exactly what I need to keep pushing.

I know that I’ll never make it to executive producer, but that’s fine with me. I have no such aspirations. I want to transition out of TV at some point, because work-life balance isn’t a thing in the industry. I hope to have a family of my own one day—kids to love, a husband to dote on. I also want a job that will allow me to contribute financially while not taking over my life. Maybe I should wish for calorie-free ice cream while I’m imagining impossible things.

For now though, I’m doing my best to be the most kick-ass assistant producer. I work on a local TV show, and they pay me a salary that is just enough to buy my own tiny apartment just outside the city.

Today I’m being sneaky instead of kick-ass, tiptoeing out of the studio at four o’clock so I can meet Blake before happy hour begins at the bar. Thank heavens my boss is on a set on the outskirts of San Francisco today, so he’s not privy to my shenanigans.

After parking my car a block away from the bar, I walk at a brisk pace, soaking in the energy of the Pacific Heights district surrounding me. It’s a bright, if chilly, evening, perfect for the second week of May. I’ve been here before, but now I’m seeing things through a different lens.

The bar itself is in a three-story building, on the ground floor. The apartments are on the top floor. He uses the floor in between for storage, which means no noise from the bar reaches the apartments. I clap my hands in excitement as I survey the building once more: fresh, energetic, promising a good time if you step inside.

The bar is already buzzing with customers, despite it not even being five o’clock. Then again, most tourist guidebooks or websites list it as a recommendation, so chances are many of the customers are tourists who aren’t bound to their work schedule. Two bartenders are behind the counter, but Blake sits at one of the high, round tables right next to the bar. He’s with two other men and a woman who are wearing suits, and from what I can see, they are pointing to some papers on the table. He’s in serious business mode, and it’s a damn good look on him. Even though he’s talking to a group, he dominates the space and, as far as I can tell, the conversation.

I wave discreetly at Blake, then hop on one of the stools in front of the bar in a move I hope conveys that I’ll wait for him to finish the conversation. But Blake nods at the three strangers and heads toward me. The crowd parts for him as he stalks through the room. Blake emanates power and confidence in a subtle way. Everything about him makes you stand taller and pay attention.

Hello, future neighbor. I’m wrapping up things with the group there, and we’ll go up in a few minutes, okay?

Sure, take your time. I’ll wait and have a glass of whatever in the meantime.

Great. Blake motions to the closest bartender. Whatever the lady here drinks is on the house.

Blake, I admonish. No way—

When you drink in my bar, you don’t pay.

He smiles, but his tone leaves no room for argument.

Before I even have time to open my mouth and argue, Blake leaves, returning to his group. I order a glass of ginger lemonade and, while sipping from it, inspect the bar closer.

Before I know it, Blake is ushering his conversation partners toward the entrance. Quickly, I try to pay for my drink, and I’m smart about it, approaching the bartender Blake hasn’t instructed to provide me with free drinks. I almost manage to hand him ten dollars when Blake catches my forearm midair.

No, he says simply. The bartender’s eyebrows climb into his hairline but he steps away, finishing the cocktails he was mixing when I approached him.

I want to pay for my drink, I insist.

Family and friends don’t pay in my bar.

His voice holds equal parts domination and determination, and it sends my pulse into overdrive. He holds my gaze captive, and my forearm, his fingers applying a gentle pressure on my skin. The contact sends waves of heat through me. Oh crap. Any day now, I will grow immune to his charm. Any day now. But today is not the day. At least the attraction is one-sided, thank goodness.

Licking my lips, I pull back my arm, placing the ten-dollar bill back in my bag. Okay. Thank you. I down the last few gulps of lemonade. 

Let’s go upstairs. Unless you want another drink?

No, I’m good. Let’s go.

Follow me. There’s a separate entry though the back, so you wouldn’t have to walk through the bar every time. I’ll show you.

Blake leads the way, opening doors for me and tucking me into his side as we step outside on the street and round the corner. His protective streak is most endearing. When Blake pushes the door to the apartment open after

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  • (5/5)
    I loved Clara - she is so quirky and funny! And I'm a big fan of the Bennett family. She fits in perfectly. It sounds like we will be hearing from the cousins when we run out of siblings? I hope so.